Class Notes: A Quick Look at the Week’s top Education Stories

Mar 1, 2013

Sequestration deadline arrives in D.C.

Public schools and colleges and universities are bracing for funding cuts because of an across the board federal spending reduction known as sequestration. The cuts have the potential to affect everything from Head Start and afterschool programs to federal financial aid and research funding. There’s also a lot of uncertainty about how the federal cuts will be implemented and how much pain local schools and colleges are going to feel. Many local officials are undoubtedly crossing their fingers, hoping that Congress reaches a deal to put off the cuts.

A few numbers:

The number of Head Start classrooms Children's Friend says it will have to close in Rhode Island: 4

Children affected by the closures: 101

Amount of research funding at risk at the University of Rhode Island: $6.4 million-$12.6 million

Research funding at stake at Brown University: $8 million

The number of low-income students who may be impacted by public school cuts: 4,000

Potential decrease in funding for the state's low-income and special education programs: $6.6 million.

Students receiving federal financial aid at URI last year: 575

Final nominee clears committee vote

The last nominee for the new State Board of Education received a green light from the Senate Committee on Education, clearing the way for a full Senate vote. The head of the Senate Education Committee says the new board could meet in the coming weeks.

Brown President speaks out on tuition

Brown University President Christina Paxson, who has been in office less than a year, addressed the university’s recent decision to raise tuition rates in a talk at the Providence Rotary Club. Paxson is an economist by training and says she has reviewed the numbers personally. She called tuition costs an issue the university needs to address but adds the solution will not be easy. Tuition and fees for a year at Brown now top $57,000 and nearly half of Brown students receive financial aid.

High stakes testing debate continues

The controversy over the use of standardized test scores as a high school graduation requirement shows no signs of abating, despite repeated defense of the policy from State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. This week, advocates demonstrated in Warwick and gave testimony on Smith Hill. They’re concerned about roughly 4,000 students who will have to re-take state tests and show significant improvement to receive their diplomas.

In this debate there is considerable merit to both sides of the argument. Opponents of high stakes testing often cite the pressure it puts on students and the negative effect this can have on school culture. Proponents say it’s reasonable to expect students to demonstrate minimum skill levels before awarding them a high school degree.

For some extra perspective, I turned to a recent article in The New York Times Magazine. It’s a fascinating look at why some students find testing almost unbearably stressful, while others actually perform better under competitive, stressful conditions.